‘My novel now feels unnerving’: authors who predicted the pandemic
Completed in 2019, Christina Sweeney-Baird’s The End of Men offers some uncanny premonitions of Covid-19. Why are we drawn to disaster fiction even as a real life crisis unfolds?
A plague that starts with a pangolin, doctors sounding the alarm but not being listened to, countries slow to close their borders, a virus spreading until it’s too late to contain it, a cruise ship of passengers stranded with nowhere to dock. Sound familiar? I’m describing 2020, of course, but all of those things are also present in my novel, The End of Men, which I wrote between September 2018 and December 2019. I’m now answering to Cassandra.
The End of Men is set between 2025 and 2031 and shows a world in which a virus to which women are immune kills 90% of the world’s men. I didn’t actually set out to write a “pandemic” novel. I wanted to explore what the world would look like without men – what would parliament and hospitals and dating and childcare look like? What would change? What would stay the same? What would it feel like to live in a world so affected by loss and which needed to be rebuilt around, and by, women? A pandemic was the most realistic way of writing that world; a reverse-engineered thought experiment.